How Is Your Inner Critic Holding You Back?

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by MaryAnn Jones, A-CFHC

This article was written together with Jan Cummins. 

“At certain times of my life, my inner critic has been deafening, beginning in high school when my dad asked why I received an A and not an A+. I knew he was kidding, but my perfectionist self wanted to show him an A+ next time. My inner voice has often taken over, convincing me I’m not good enough, I should do more and do it better. Why do I fall for that? Along with learning to strive for excellence over perfection, I have learned to stay present, ask myself if those inner words are even true, and remind myself of my successes and accomplishments to hush the inner critic. If that voice still wants to sit on my shoulder some days, I’ll let her stay, but remind her that I’ve heard what she has to say, I have learned from her, and I really don’t need her speaking up today. With that small shift, guess what? I am good enough!” — Jan Cummins

“I am 5’0” tall on a good posture day. My inner critic loves to remind me that I am small, that I have trouble reaching for what is beyond my reach. I have allowed the voice in my head to convince me that I was not enough many times. But I have also found ways to confront my critic. I have changed careers, started my own business, and learned new ways to eat, work, and move. I have challenged my petite self, and although I cannot grow taller, I can grow stronger. I have made peace with my critic; she is still there, but now she is a reminder of how far I have come.” — MaryAnn Jones

What Is the Inner Critic?

The inner critic or saboteur is that judging voice that undermines our accomplishments, diminishes our self-esteem, and makes us feel inadequate. Why do we listen more to the nagging inner critic than we do to our hearts?

When the inner critic has too much space in our minds, it can lead us to live as less courageous versions of ourselves. It sees its task as keeping us safe, and it will do everything in its power to do that, even feeding our fears. A trained health coach can tap into their clients’ self-compassion and make an important contribution in helping them handle the negative conversations.

“Interestingly, the very experience of fear itself is the tip-off moment, the signal that a possibility for action is opening up and so a choice needs to be made.”

Robert Biswas-Diener

What “tip-off moments” have you experienced? Perhaps it was deciding to apply for a dream job or venturing into a new relationship. Maybe it was as seemingly simple as making that phone call to resolve a conflict.

As Robert says, these are pivotal opportunities if we look for the possibilities.

So how do we shift our thinking and see what is possible when faced with a big decision? How can we quiet that voice and allow ourselves to courageously knock the judge off our shoulder?

If you’re facing a big decision or major change, you’re probably familiar with your inner critic. Check out this article from health coaches MaryAnn Jones and Jan Cummins for strategies to quiet your critic and forge ahead. #iamachangeagent #kresserinstitute

Four Strategies to Quiet Your Inner Critic

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Bringing intention to the ways we can show ourselves some love helps us feel more resilient, confident, and capable. It allows us to bounce back from challenges with a sense of perspective and optimism.

Forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Bring awareness to how you speak to yourself; imagine you are talking to someone you love. Rest, sleep, and/or practice a form of meditation that feels good to you.

  • How does practicing your strengths build your confidence?
  • If the judgment of your inner critic is painful, how will you care for yourself to feel better? How can you call upon the strengths you’ve displayed in similar circumstances?
  • What is most important to you now?
  • What is on your wishlist?

2. Name, Tame, and Reframe

Name the self-judgment. Tame it by slowing down, breathing, and being aware. Self-judgment can create tension and put you into fight-flight-freeze mode, so pause to relax your body. Breathe into your fear and face it neutrally.

Reframe it with a positive. Focus on something that you’re good at or appreciate about yourself.

  • How do you recognize your inner critic? Can you personify it? What does it look like? Sound like?
  • How would it feel to put the focus on what you value vs. pleasing others?
  • How have your strengths enabled you to thrive in the past?

3. Learn from Your Inner Critic

Our knee-jerk reaction is to give the boot to the inner critic, kick it out the door, and scream at it to go away! But what if we simply acknowledged that voice and gently responded, “I know you want me to be safe, but honestly, I don’t need you today. I’ve learned the lessons you’ve taught me, and I’ve got this.”

  • What else would you tell that voice that would enable you to move forward?
  • Get curious—what message is your inner critic really sending you?
  • What are the benefits of making changes now?
  • What do you treasure most about the potential change?

4. Live with Your Inner Critic

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Finding a way to make peace with your inner critic might offer a realistic approach to boosting your confidence and forging ahead with decisions that empower you to realize your dream life.

What if we thought of our minds as a thriving garden? To have a resilient and healthy mind, you need to care for it as you would tend to a garden. You would have the capacity to pull the weeds of self-criticism and plant the seeds of self-compassion. Where our attention goes, the energy flows. Where do you put your energy? How can you replace your fear of making mistakes with curiosity and compassion? What are some ways you can adjust your feelings and expectations about how things should be so they don’t get in the way of moving forward?

We invite you to quiet your inner critic and welcome the voice of self-compassion as a way of allowing more confidence, connection, and success into your daily life.

Living with the Inner Critic as a Health Coach

We are both graduates of the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program and Enrollment Advisors for the Kresser Institute. As health coaches, we’re very familiar with the inner critic—it’s something that we and our clients face. We’ve found that by coming together with our community of other coaches and ADAPT graduates, we can share our experiences and insights with each other, helping us all to overcome the inner critic and enabling us to take on new challenges. In fact, that’s why we recently held a virtual event for our graduates and current students that focused on the inner critic and the ways it might actually help us and our clients grow.

We’ve learned through events like this one and from others, including ADAPT faculty member Forest Fein:

  • Your point of view can allow you to manage your inner critic—especially if you’re able to be playful and engage in self-compassion.
  • You can gain perspective by connecting with others who are at different points in their journey. This can help you realize how far you have come and inspire you to strive toward your goals.
  • What you resist, persists. Learning coaching techniques like reframing, reflecting, and mindfulness can enhance your personal development.
  • A regular mindfulness practice can mitigate the inner critic by bringing awareness in order to manage in more helpful ways.
  • Acknowledge that your inner critic is creating discomfort and make a choice about how you want to deal with it.
  • Further your awareness by asking yourself if the message your inner critic is telling you is helpful or harmful or even true.
  • You are in control and can reframe how you think about the discomfort. If you choose joy vs. shame, you will have switched on the powerful neurotransmitter dopamine, which fuels pleasure.
  • Self-care is self-compassion and critical to moving forward and managing your fears.

If you’re struggling with your inner critic as a health coach, ask yourself:

  • What would you do today if you had all the confidence in the world?
  • What motivated you to pursue a career in health coaching in the first place (or what’s driving your curiosity about the profession)?
  • How can you replace your fear of making mistakes with curiosity?
  • How might you replace self-criticism with self-compassion so you can show up as your best, most present self for your clients and for yourself?
Supporting our students and graduates is a high priority and part of what makes being a member of the ADAPT community unique, enriching, and empowering. Click here to find out more about what the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program has to offer.